National Geographic : 1954 Feb
Scotland's Golden Eagles at Home 273 Climbing Perilous Cliffs to Lofty Eyries, a Naturalist Photographs Intimate Family Life of These Monarchs of the Air BY C. ERIC PALMAR Curator, Department of Natural History, Glasgow Museum With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author rWOOSH! At the sudden rush of a huge bird's wings my heart gave a big thump and every nerve tingled. I glued my eyes to the peephole of the blind in which I was crouching, and there, on her cliff-ledge eyrie only a few feet before me, landed the most magnificent bird I have ever set my eyes on-a golden eagle (page 275). The eagle eyed the blind with a fierce glint that all but pierced the burlap tent. I held my breath and froze. During those moments of tension the inch-size peephole seemed to gape a foot wide, and the three thicknesses of burlap with their leafy camouflage seemed thinner than cigarette paper. Suddenly I realized her eyes were fixed on the lenses of the movie and still cameras which, though deeply hooded, were set up just below. After a while she jerked a quick look back over her shoulder, glaring down the wild ravine, then up it to where her mate was perching some distance away on a gnarled rowan tree stump. Then she looked back at the blind again, eying it up and down for a minute or two. At last, after what seemed an eternity, the fierceness vanished from her eye and she looked down to the cup of the nest, made of large sticks, coarse heather, and rushes. There, oblivious of the big world around, nestled her solitary, fluffy white, week-old youngster, sound asleep. Suspicions Overcome The old bird cocked her head to one side a little, regarding the chick tenderly. A glint was still there in her eye, but it was no longer that fierce initial flash of suspicion. Her pose was now irresistible, so I clicked the shutter of the still camera (page 276). To my great relief, she took no notice of the sound nor of the slight fumbling which followed when I changed the plate. She just kept staring at that youngster. At last I felt I could relax and take a detailed look at her. She was tawny brown all over, with golden-brown neck feathers. Her eye shone ruby-colored in the sun, con trasting with the yellow at the base of her bill. As she moved about, I could see that her toes, each with a huge curved black claw at its tip, were the same bright yellow as her beak. Her legs had "spats" of chestnut brown feathers right down to the toes, and there were a few of the same color on the flanks-by no means a brightly colored bird, but far from dull, either. Clearly she had accepted the presence of the blind well enough. It had been in place several days already and was thickly camou flaged with leafy branches, bundles of heather, and other green stuff so that it merged natu rally with the herbage-grown cliff face. Feeding Time Arrives After a while the eaglet started to move about and cheep. At this the mother bird became active herself. The eyrie was several feet across, and lying on it was the body of a grouse partly plucked of its feathers. The old bird reached out for this carcass, planted one great foot over it to anchor it down, gripped a morsel of meat in her beak, then tugged upwards, rip ping it off. Ever so gently she gave it to the eaglet, who cheeped peevishly, rather like a domestic chick (page 276). Time and time again for the next 30 minutes she picked off little tidbits and fed them to the baby. It was all done so carefully and gently that it looked rehearsed-almost, in fact, a ritual. The youngster cheeped, now shrilly as it awaited a morsel, now softly as it gurgled with satisfaction, its maw full of juicy red meat. This often consisted of more tender parts such as liver. And how carefully the old one planted those clumsy-looking, wide-spreading, terribly armed feet whenever she made a move about the nest!